Recommended places by YonYon, a DJ working borderlessMusic
DJ, singer-songwriter, radio MC, event organizer, and the like, YonYon continues to pursue her carrier as an independent artist. Born in Seoul, Korea, before moving to Tokyo, Japan, when she was a child, she continues to bridge the cultures of Japan and other Asian countries and the overground and underground music scenes. Her sound encompasses EDM, hip hop, live band music, and even J-pop. The truly borderless style is quite unseen elsewhere. We asked her about the nightlife scene.
—You are based in Tokyo, what are your thoughts regarding the Tokyo night scene?
YonYon: I have recently moved to Fukuoka, which helps me take another look at Tokyo more objectively. Tokyo has more places to go to at night in comparison to cities in other countries. There are izakayas (Japanese style pub/restaurant), karaoke boxes, DJ bars, and record bars, as well as areas where small and unique establishments stand shoulder to shoulder. Shinjuku has the Golden Gai (Golden District) and Shibuya has the Nonbe Yokocho (Drinker’s Street). I think the abundance is due to traditional Japanese cultures, such as settai (business dinners) and otsukiai (accompanying someone to places as a courtesy). People often have after-parties, and then after after-party parties. Thanks to this custom, we have many places to hang out.
―When did you start hanging out at night?
YonYon: My gateway to the night scene was, of course, a club. However, even when I went out I had a rather strict curfew, and someone used to come to pick me up when I just finished DJ-ing. Anyway, I didn’t go out much so that my parents won’t worry, but I became interested in DJ-ing after joining a DJ circle at the university. So, I started organizing a party at WOMB and also started to DJ myself. I was 18.
―What kind of event was it?
YonYon: When I was 18, the Adult Entertainment Law had not been reformed yet, so partying after midnight was limited. That’s why I was doing a daytime event. There weren’t many parties for enjoying full-fledged club music during the daytime back then, so I thought, “why not make one?” Internet labels like Maltine Records and Bunkai-Kei Records were also gaining momentum, so I starting booking them. A big factor was that Miii, who had some releases from Matine, and I were in the same department. He introduced me to Shiso, who was an event organizer (and now a producer), and that introduction eventually led to my meeting TREKKIE TRAX, and that’s how I got Seimei to perform for my event from the very first time. Looking back, I think I was lucky to have good friends and a great environment. Many of my classmates had never been to clubs, so I decided to book some live acts as well — so that club beginners could also have fun — and I also tried to do something seasonal. For example, we handed out some turkey when it was Christmas, and we had an all-you-can-eat chocolate fondue buffet on valentine’s day (laugh).
―I understand your party was a crossover between new-generation four-to-the-floor and hip hop.
YonYon: It wasn’t just a DJ party. I wanted to mix various things and make a holistic experience. If the quality was good, the genre didn’t matter. Genre-less events and events where DJ and live performances crossover are becoming common nowadays, but there weren’t any when I was a student; club events were more stoic and a bit inaccessible. We started small as an irregular event at the WOMB using the lounge space on the 1st floor, but we opened all the floors and had a crowd of about 800 people towards the end. I hope I managed to introduce new music to the audience. The staff at the WOMB were so generous. They even helped me figure out how to build the stage and with all the lasers and VJs. A lot of people helped our event, although a daytime one with mainly college students, so we were able to make a great party that could compete with the regular events at night. I am particularly happy that I was able to gather music lovers from various universities to our party, where they would make friends from other universities and meet again during the next party.
―What do you do on a night out?
YonYon: To be honest, I don’t go out that much at night. I was quite busy with my schoolwork and part-time job when I was a student, which may be why I rather prefer taking walks alone or going to the movies. Maybe those are the inputs that I need for my production. But I would go to an izakaya or a karaoke box if a friend invites me, and I also go to events if an artist from abroad that I like is performing, or when a friend/artist is visiting Japan from Korea or somewhere else — partly to attend to them and partly to just have fun.
―Do you have a favorite place to take your friends from abroad?
YonYon: The DJ bar “Debris” in Daikanyama. Someone I knew took me there saying it’s interesting. At first glance, it looks like a book cafe but it has a hidden door that leads to a different floor. I was like “what is this place!?” I tried the medicinal liquor they recommended and it was really good. I also fell in love with their porridge. They were playing slower techno and house that night and the place was also very stylish, so I often take my friends and artists there when they are visiting Japan.
―Any other locations you can think of that you like to share?
YonYon: The record bar “JBS” that is located on Dogenzaka in Shibuya is also nice. Everyone I take there says they love it. There is also a community of international guests there. First-time travelers and international students should easily be able to make friends there. I think the place is more popular among international visitors than locals. And, of course, the puri-kura (also spelled print-club) machines. The game center “ADORES” near the Udagawa police box is open until 0:45 a.m. (the following day) on Friday and Saturday nights. Take a group of friends that have enjoyed a few drinks and they will all be like “yeaaaahhhyyy.”
―Any of the places that you DJ that you would recommend?
YonYon: “Hotel Koe” in Shibuya has a free admission party featuring a DJ every weekend from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. I also DJ there from time to time. The music is leaning towards mainstream so it should be easy listening for a lot of people, and there is also enough space to dance. The venue is the lobby of an actual hotel, so people are checking in right next to where others are dancing! I did a J-pop and US hip hop set there the other day.
―You are quite genre-less.
YonYon: I can only spend so much time digging music, so I decided to go wide, albeit shallow. I’ve always been into obscure stuff so when I first started DJ-ing I was always looking for cutting edge tracks to introduce to people. But I realized it was hard to reach a lot of people that way. I felt that I needed to incorporate more overground stuff. Then, I was invited to perform on the radio show “Tokyo Scene” as a regular. I started listening to all kinds of music since then. I learned that there are J-pop tracks you can dance to, so I started working those into my DJ set. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to introduce underground music to the overground crowd, and vice versa. That’s why I go wide but shallow.
--What are some of your favorite recent J-pop tunes?
YonYon: Well, you know Japanese records like 80-90s city-pop stuff are selling, right? Newly interpreted city pop tracks are coming out recently, and I think they are good. For example, KIRINJI, Hitomitoi, tofubeats and the like are artists leading the new Japanese danceable city pop trend.
―What do you expect from the Japanese nightlife scene?
YonYon: Constructions and redevelopments are happening all over the place and there are constructions in Shibuya every day. There were many new clubs and DJ bars just about to open when the worldwide coronavirus pandemic hit, and we have all been forced to exercise self-restraint. We are sharing ideas and connecting both on and off-line to figure out how to overcome this situation, and many bonds are being made all over the place. I believe that because we are faced with such a big change today, it is also our chance to let go of some old habits and start new things. I am looking forward to collaborating with artists that will have upped their games after the period of honing their production and DJ skills at home, at new places, and in a new scene. I see it this way: each of us got the chance to take our time and seriously think about what we can do for a better future in the music scene.
▷ How to enjoy Tokyo recommended by YonYon
DJ bar located on Yawata-dori in Daikanyama. It seems like a small bar with just a few seats along the counter until you find a hidden button. Beyond the secret door, you’ll find an exotic Asian space where good music and delicious drinks await you. Popular drinks include various types of medicinal liquor containing all kinds of herbs that they display behind the long counter. They have various cocktails, each with an effect such as fatigue recovery, cold control, anti-summer-bate, and skincare. Ask the bartender for details. Their full list of cocktails made using craft-spirits are also popular. Another popular item on their menu is their Chinese porridge that is great for that late-night munchies while also being easy on your digestive system. Keep the party going, but let’s stay healthy at the same time, they’re saying (I think).
Adress: 11-12 B1F, Daikanyama Cho, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo Japan
Open: 19:00-Midnight, Closed on Sunday
hotel koe tokyo Weekend music & event
“hotel koe tokyo” is located in the center of Shibuya, at the corner of an intersection. The urban atmosphere with a lot of sunshine is fascinating, and so are the features: a bakery/restaurant is open on the 1st floor from 7:30 in the morning till 11:00 at night, clothes and general goods are sold on the 2nd floor, and the guest rooms are located on the 3rd floor. Using the space on the 1st floor, a free admission music event is held every Friday and Saturday night. Featuring mainly local DJs, each party held has a unique theme. Stop by after work on a Friday or on your way home after shopping on a Saturday ― you might just decide to stay all night.
■hotel koe tokyo Weekend music & event
Address:3-7 Udagawa-Cho, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo Japan
Open: Fri & Sat, music & event 19:00-23:00
Friday night on air: “InterFM Tokyo Scene” featuring YonYon (DJ)
Featuring house DJ Ren Yokoi and YonYon, the radio show focuses on the music culture scene by the young generation living in Tokyo. Every Friday night from 8 pm to 10 mp ― the golden time of the weekend ― the show welcomes guests each time to present music news and exclusive mixes by popular DJs. Friday night is a popular slot for radio shows all around the world, and “Tokyo Scene” is no exception, bringing you everything related to the domestic music scene of Tokyo, as well as some famous DJs from abroad.
InterFM897 Tokyo Scene
Every Friday 20:00～22:00
DJ:Ren Yokoi, YonYon
Photo: Reiji Yamazaki
Text: Kana Yoshioka
Top image: Recommended places by Yon Yon, a DJ working borderless